Photo of 2nd Lt Richard Cooper Dodson courtesy Sarah Locklin Taylor

Please click HERE to see the find-a-grave memorial to 2nd Lt Richard Cooper Dodson

A MEMORIAL DAY

REMEMBRANCE

          On our calendars, there are two holidays that carry significant importance: Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.  These are the days where we honor those who died in service to our country and those who fought and returned home.

Many of our boys from Monroe and Walton County have served in the wars which we have participated in and have done so with pride and honor.  Many of these dedicated individuals left their homes and families for a cause they believed in, served their time on the battlefield or where ever they were stationed and returned home to resume their lives with distinction and honor.

And there were those who gave their lives in service  while defending the freedoms we have always known and valued, to ensure these freedoms would always be a part of our heritage. While many of these stalwart men returned home to a town steeped in grief and sorrow and were buried in the various cemeteries in and around Walton County in services befitting the supreme sacrifice they gave to their country, others never made it home to rest again in the earth of their hometown, their remains never being found or identified while others whose remains were identified were buried in the soil where they died.

          One of these young men, Richard Cooper Dodson, came from a well-known and respected Monroe family.  He was the son of the late Nellie Cooper Dodson Adams and Jack Bascom Dodson.  He was born on December 1, 1920 and was a 1938 graduate of Monroe High School. After his father’s death in 1934 and during his years in high school, Cooper worked on a part-time basis with The E. L. Almand Company, Funeral Directors, where his mother was the office secretary.  Strong bonds of friendship were formed with Ed Almand, Jr., Bill Matthews and Corley Brown, the manager of the Social Circle branch of the funeral home.

After high school he enrolled at North Georgia College in Dahlonega where he excelled in his studies. Upon his graduation in 1940 he accepted a position with the Mutual Hardware Casualty Company in Atlanta where he enjoyed a short but successful business career.

He enlisted in the U. S. Army on January 6th, 1941 and received his basic training at Maxwell Field, Alabama. On April 1, 1943 Cooper received his wings and the rank of Lieutenant.  He left for overseas on September 4, 1943, where he served with distinction with the 100th Bomb Group, 50th Squadron.

          During the time Cooper served his country, he wrote many letters back home to his mother, sister & friends and to his former co-workers at the funeral home. As with all servicemen, it was these letters to family and friends and the letters in return that helped keep their spirits high and their sights focused on the main goal.

          Edward Almand, III, son of the late Ed Almand, Jr., generously shared with me some of the letters his father received from Cooper prior to his plane being shot down over Munster, Germany. A letter he wrote from Blythe, California told of the joy his mother received when she was present at the ceremony where she pinned his wings on his uniform. He went on to write about what was to be expected of him and his group as they prepared to be sent to an air field in Texas for flight training.  One thing he commented on, “You should see me out here in this desert; G. I. shoes, old khaki clothes and a beaten up cap!  I look more like a desert rat than a soldier!  I live eight miles from the place I eat.  I have a jeep so I ride cross country in that.”

          The next letter dated April 10, 1943 was a bit more sobering as he began to learn just what was expected of him and the group of men he came to call his squad.  He wrote, “For a long time I waited and worked for the day when I would receive my wings and commission as an officer of the Air Forces.  The time was at hand and I could not get excited about it.  I had often thought it would be an experience similar to high school or college graduation or even like the time I got my first pony.  Those were the best times of my life, but this one was more a sobering occasion. Not the end but the beginning.  Soon the time will come when we will have as our responsibility the lives of other men of an aerial combat crew.  It is more of a question of whether or not we are capable of doing our job…..I think most of us are.”

          Cooper seemed to be in a contemplative mood in his writing of this letter as he continued, “For quite a while I sat there my thoughts going from pleasant memories of home and friends to the future and what lies ahead.  Then I wondered if you at home were as ready as we were for the job ahead of you.  We are a long way from our goal of a complete victory.  We in the service are more than glad to have the privilege of serving our country.  The world has been good to most of us and this is our small way of showing our appreciation for the many blessings we have received in a land of free people.  We will gladly do our best and with your cooperation on the home front the time will soon come when we can again come home to a land of freedom and democracy.”

          As the war continued and Cooper and his squadron saw first- hand the horrors and atrocities of the war, his outlook took a somber tone in what was his last letter to Ed Almand.  Dated sometime in late September or early October of 1943, Cooper wrote the following to his long-time friend: “After one has been exposed to several close, very close escapes on missions, he begins to believe in premonitions or hunches.  Maybe we know when our number is up, this time I hope I am wrong but there are some things I want you to know.”  He goes on to tell Ed about how he wants his funeral service conducted and things he would like done for his mother and sister.  He said, “When I go I want it to be fast and it probably will.  If we are listed as missing in action that means we are down in enemy territory.  There may be a good chance of escape in France but we may sit out the war in a prison camp.  If I am missing then my pay is to continue for six months so please see that Mother gets this.”

          He ends this letter by saying, “I haven’t done anything spectacular or wonderful in this war.  All I can say is that I never shirked my duty and was always ready when called upon.  I simply did my best as far as I possibly could. I know why we are fighting and I believe in that cause.  We are fighting for Democracy—the real battle is at home.  Until I got here I never knew how bad the situation was. Just remember that I’ve done my best regardless of how little that might have been---I feel I am square with most folks, could have made more friends and less mistakes.  Thank you again for everything you have done for me.”

          At the bottom of this letter, in a different handwriting, his commanding officer, had written: “Lt. Cooper is missing in action…October 10th,” and goes on to explain what steps to be taken to ascertain his location and whereabouts.  This letter was postmarked November 6, 1943.

          The September 14, 1945 issue of the Walton Tribune carried the following headline: “Local Young Man is Victim of European War”, which stated, “Mrs. Nellie Cooper Dodson was notified by the War Department last week that her son, Lt. Richard Cooper Dodson must now be presumed dead since he has been missing in action 23 months following a bombing mission over Munster, Germany.”

          It took almost six years but the mortal remains of Lt. Cooper Dodson found their way back to Monroe for a funeral service at Monroe First Baptist Church on June 5, 1949 followed by a graveside service at Rest Haven Cemetery with full military honors with Monroe’s VFW Post 4421 and the American Legion Post 64 presiding at the interment. This was one of the largest and most impressive funeral services Monroe had seen in a long while but certainly deserving for one so young who gave his life for what he believed in.

          Recently I visited the graves of Cooper, Miss Nellie and Jack, remembering what Cooper sacrificed gladly to keep his country strong and free. The price his family suffered was great, but looking at his grave, I was filled with gratitude and appreciation remembering the unselfish decision he made for his family, his hometown and the pride he had in helping America keep its freedom. It is an honor to salute and remember Lt. Cooper Dodson.